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The summer after I launched into full-time entrepreneurship I took advantage of my flexible schedule to take my kids on an epic road/camping trip to Colorado. I’d never done either with them on my own, so it was definitely a bit of an undertaking. But I survived to tell the tale, and created a number of incredible memories to go with it. Today I’m sharing some of the tools and resources I used for planning the trip, as well as all the places we visited in Colorado.

Planning Your Trip

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I’m a bit of an obsessive researcher and planner when it comes to most things, but I was even more so when planning this trip. I’d never driven this far/this long with my kids by myself, and I’d never been the one to do any actual planning for camping, either. I was definitely ambitious with going on this trip, but there were a few key things that helped me tremendously as I was planning:

1. Roadtrippers

The Roadtrippers app was an absolute godsend. I was able to plug in my starting point and destinations and find all my stops in between. It breaks down the time and distance between each point on your customized map, and you can filter your search for everything from food, to hotels and campgrounds, to sites to see, pit stops, gas stations, and so much more. This was hands-down the biggest resource I relied on for my entire trip. You can checkout the entire route for our trip on my Roadtrippers map below (random gas stations stops and trips to the grocery store not included).

Texas to Colorado Road Trip on Roadtrippers

2. Borrow Camping Gear from Friends

We had some camping gear on hand already, but we were in need of some essentials (like a bigger tent, extra sleeping bags, and a camping stove). I did a call out on the trusty ‘ole Facebook and was able to borrow all of these and then some from some incredibly generous friends (thank you!). This was a big money saver, especially when I wasn’t certain we’d use the equipment again if we’d purchased it ourselves. There were a number of things I did purchase, though, including a waterproof dry bag, headlamp, survival whistles on lanyards, collapsible water carrier, and some Chaco’s sandals for me (which I wore pretty much the entire trip).

I chose to camp during our trip to save money on campground rentals rather than hotel stays, but we could have easily broken the bank buying all new camping gear. Definitely borrow as much as you can.

3. Book All Your Reservations in Advance

Since I was traveling solo and new we’d be driving for long stretches each day, I did not want to leave where we were staying each night up to chance. We did stay at an AirBnB in Amarillo on our way to Colorado, and in Colorado Springs (we camped in someone’s backyard), as well as a KOA cabin in Amarillo on the last night of our road trip. For our campsites, I researched extensively using books, Reacreation.gov, ReserveAmerica.com, AirBnB (get $40 off your first booking when you use my link), and made all of my reservations online. This was my anchor of security throughout the trip. Knowing where we were sleeping and camping each night gave me a clear goal to make it to each day. I also kept a notebook detailing our itinerary, including meal plans. Of course life doesn’t always go exactly as planned, but it was a tremendous help having as much planned as possible.

4. Camping and Colorado Travel Books

I did do a bunch of online research, but sometimes it’s great to have a book in hand to help you really dive into making trip plans. Here are the books that I found most helpful in planning our trip:

For those of you looking for digital-only resources, check out my Camping & Road Trips board on Pinterest.

5. Discount Car Rental

 

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I had a tiny car at the time, so renting a van was a must for our road trip. I also had a Costco membership and took advantage of their discount rental program.

Sites to See from San Antonio to Colorado

Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas

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Cadillac Ranch was one of those delightful finds from Roadtrippers. It’s a row of 10 classic Cadillacs standing out of the ground along Route 66 just outside of Amarillo, Texas. The cars have been there since the 70’s, and it’s a bit of a tradition to bring some spray paint and make your mark on the cars. I bought some inexpensive spray paint from the store on our way out, but you may be able to borrow some from a departing visitor if you don’t bring your own. Do be mindful to keep your paint on the cars, and dispose of the cans rather than leaving them on the ground. My kids had a blast spraying the cars––make sure your kiddos aren’t wearing anything too precious when you go.

Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico

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Capulin Volcano National Monument happened to be one of the most appealing stopping points as we hooked through New Mexico on our route, and it turned out to be a gem of a find. The spiraling drive up the side of the inactive volcano was beautiful in and of itself. We stopped at the visitor’s center beforehand to get our park pass and I was also inspired to pick up our first National Park Passports. There are hiking trails around the top––and an outhouse that my boys were hysteric over being able to see down the side of the volcano through.

Great Sand Dunes Campground in Colorado

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We spent our first night in Colorado camping out at the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool & RV Park, just a short drive from the Great Sand Dunes National Park. We got there pretty late in the day, and encountered a storm right as we were setting up our tent for the first time on our trip. We didn’t take advantage of the pool there, but we did enjoy eating at the cafe.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

 

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I was pretty dorky excited about taking the kids to Great Sand Dunes National Park (especially after we got our National Park Passports). I’d done a lot of reading up on it, and sand boarding was a popular activity at the dunes. Although I was tempted to just bring along some makeshift boards to save some money, I’d read that only sand boards really worked going down the dunes. So I splurged on renting 4 boards (1 for each of the kids––I just borrowed one of theirs). I was really glad that I did, too. We saw people going down on sleds or cardboard they’d brought from home to now avail. You can watch one of my girls sledding down the dunes in the video below.

For those with really little kids, it’s probably not worth renting boards. You have to hike quite a ways out to reach the actual dunes from the visitor’s center, while carrying your boards.

Great Sand Dune NP Pointers:

  • You can’t rent boards in the park––there’s a pit stop before the park where you can rent them, so stop there before you go to the park (you’ll see signs for board rentals).
  • The dunes are HOT, so be sure to wear hats and sunscreen, and bring plenty of water for everyone in your party. We ran a little low on our own water, and it was a bit of a feat convincing my youngest daughter to muster the will power to walk back out of the dunes (ice cream bribery may have been involved).

Horseshoe Campground in Pike National Forest

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Horseshoe Campground in the Pike National Forest was probably the most remote place we camped in––and the one place we really had to be bear-aware while camping. The scenery was beautiful, although we basically only made and broke camp the next day. Skyler used his magic touch to set the tent up for us, and then the kids ran off to play baseball with a large family reunion group staying on the grounds while I cooked dinner. This was one of the least expensive campground rentals, and it had a fun pump where we could get fresh spring water.

Country Boy Mine in Breckenridge | Gold Panning in Colorado

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We couldn’t go to Colorado and not visit a gold mine. Country Boy Gold Mine in Breckenridge was one of the few attractions (other than park entry fees) that I splurged on during our trip. We got to do a hardhat tour of the mine and then pan for gold afterwards. There was also a donkey hanging out on the premises and a big chute the kids could slide through. Definitely worth doing. I strayed from buying anything in the gift shop other than some small tubes the kids could put their panning finds in.

Camping at Mary’s Lake in Estes Park

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We didn’t do too much while we camped at Mary’s Lake (again it was a one-night stay only). But one of the things I was most grateful for here was running water. All of our campgrounds up until then did not have running water, and this place felt like a 5-star hotel in comparison. I was able to wash our dishes in the communal sink, and take a shower. Hallelujah. Need I say more?

Rocky Mountain National Park – Estes Park Entrance

 

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Visiting the Rockies is another must-do if you’re visiting Colorado. We spent most of our time in Colorado circling around and through them, and they were absolutely breathtaking to see. During my research, I settled on the Estes Park entrance as the spot we’d enter the park through. The park is ginormous, so you definitely want to plan out which way you’ll enter. I highly recommend stopping at one of the visitor centers and asking one of the park rangers for info on the best trail for you and your family to check out. They’ll know how busy each area is, whether it’s a good fit for your little ones, and likely have some insider tips on where to park, etc. We found a good place to picnic and then hiked over to a fun area to climb. I also made sure to pick up a National Park bandana (I envision myself making a quilt out of all my souvenir bandanas one day).

Backyard Airbnb – Colorado Springs

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Our stay in Colorado Springs was nothing short of magical. It was our last camping spot during the trip and we stayed for a whole two nights (making and breaking camp everyday was kind of insane, y’all!). I found a backyard on Airbnb that someone was renting out to campers and it was absolutely perfect. Our host, Shelly, was an absolute gem. She was super responsive to my messages leading up to our visit, and when we arrived we totally clicked. She was also a mama and she just kind of wrapped us up in love during our stay. Our kids played together, I even took her boys with mine to the Penny Arcade we went to (sharing that in a sec), and she took this incredible family portrait of us. We even had a pajama dance party our last night there.

She no longer rents her backyard out. But she does rent the entire house now, and it’s aptly named The Gathering House. I can’t recommend Airbnb-ing with Shelly enough. She’s a magical human being and I hope to visit with her again one day (besos, Shelly!). If you’re interest in signing up for your first Airbnb reservation, feel free to ask me any questions (I highly recommend it!).

Garden of the Gods

 

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Garden of the Gods is a registered National Natural Landmark in Colorado Springs, AND it’s free to visit––so we had to go check it out (and get those National Park passports stamped!). We entered by the Garden of the Gods Trading Post (which is basically a mega gift shop that we spent waaay to much time in). We parked first by the Balanced Rock area, then drove a little deeper into the park and headed towards an easier trail. You can also drive through the entire park if you don’t have time to stay and hike (or if you’re kids are getting hangry/cranky). The main visitor’s center also has a great overlook.

Manitou Springs Penny Arcade

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I geeked out over the Penny Arcade in Manitou Springs when I stumbled across it in my trip planning. It’s a straight up old school arcade with a combination of incredible vintage and new arcade games. It has a number of rooms throughout the grounds, and the boys and I had an absolute blast (I took Shelly’s boys, while my girls stayed in for a movie night with her daughter). Manitou Springs is just a short drive from where we were staying in Colorado Springs, and very close to Garden of the Gods, too. I gave each of my boys $20 to spend in the arcade and it lasted us hours (it was a penny arcade). I would go here again in a heartbeat.

Capulin Volcano National Monument (Again)

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As we made our way back to Texas, we followed much of the same route up, so it was only fitting to stop at the Capulin Volcano again. We stamped our passports, picnicked, and this time hike the trail around the top and down into the belly of the volcano. It was lovely to visit it again, and a great way to bookend our trip, transitioning back into familiar sites after a week on the road.

Kampgrounds of America | Amarillo

 

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For our very last night on the road, I made reservations for us to stay in a cabin at Kampgrounds of America in Amarillo. After making and breaking camp so much, it was a much needed reprieve. I did attempt to cook on our camping stove again that night, but unfortunately it stopped working on us, so we ended up making a fast food run (which was a good thing in the end––because a storm came in shortly after I’d tried firing up the stove).

The KOA cabin was basic and lovely. There were two rooms, so I got a whole bed to myself and was able to take a shower in the communal bathrooms, too. I’d highly recommend Kampgrounds of America for RVing, tent camping, or cabin rentals.


Overall our trip to Colorado was an epic adventure. I came back pretty wiped out, but we left with a host of memories that we never would have made without the journey. I’m not sure that I’d be up for camping in so many places on a road trip again, but I’d definitely make the trip again.

Looking for more family travel inspiration? Check out the posts below:

Traveling with Kids | Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

Texas Traveler Must-See: Amistad National Recreation Area

Up Your Road Trip Game with a National Park Passport

Where to Stay & What to Do: Alpine Texas

Revisiting the Johnson City Science Mill

How to Take Great Travel Photos with Your Phone